How I achieve my goals in the age of distraction.

I’m lucky—I’ve always been a fairly productive person, both in my personal and professional life. I seem to be hardwired to write ‘to do’ lists and I love to cross things off them. However, I realized a long time ago that my lists are never ending and, no matter how hard I try, I’m always disappointed that I never seem to get ahead. All this changed about two years ago, when I created some new habits to deal with the world of distraction that is now our reality.

One of the most useful new habits I have developed is to focus on 3 key daily tasks. I determine these tasks by identifying some specific goals that will deliver tangible and significant benefits to me professionally. Then I break these goals down into a series of small steps (i.e. tasks) that will lead to completing these larger accomplishments. For example, if I have a project for a client that’s due in six weeks, I work out all the tasks required to finish that project. Then I add these tasks to my calendar, with some wiggle room, since things often don’t quite go as planned.

Then, every morning before I start my work day, I look at the progress I’ve made toward each goal and what I still need to accomplish, so I can decide which 3 tasks I’m going to focus for that day. Sometimes this means I need to shuffle daily tasks around on my calendar.

For me, an important part of this process is to write those 3 daily tasks down on a worksheet that sits on my desk, in the exact same place all the time. Why is this important? Because I refer to it many times throughout the day: mid-morning, before I break for lunch, when I start work again after lunch, mid-afternoon and again at the end of my work day. I check it often so that I stay on track—so that distractions don’t derail me from doing what’s important. I also check it any time I start feeling like I’m in a fog due to interruptions that have interfered with my focus. It’s a simple and effective way to reorient my mind, and my day, back to what matters most to me.

Every now and then something comes up and 1 or 2 of my daily goals need to change. But I make these changes mindfully, making sure that what’s driving the change is truly important, not just urgent, and is still moving me toward one of my larger goals. It should be a trade-off I’m comfortable making.

Throughout the day, I write a list of the key things I accomplish. Sometimes it’s a mirror of the 3 things I set out to do. Sometimes, it’s not. But I find I’m much more satisfied at the end of the day when I can clearly see the progress I’ve made. And this makes it easier to figure out what I still need to work on.

I share this hoping that it might also help you deal with the seemingly endless interruptions and distractions that have become all too common in the workplace, so you too can crush your goals—whatever they may be.

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